In an article published in The Guardian, researchers claimed that a drug commonly used as a medication for acid reflux and heartburn is linked to a more-than-doubled risk of developing stomach cancer.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are one type of medication that can be used to reduce stomach acid, treat stomach ulcers, and relieve GERD symptoms. Widely used PPIs include esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole, pantoprazole, and rabeprazole.
However, in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Gut, it was found that long-term use of the drug is associated with 2.44 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong and University College London studied 63,397 people who’d been treated for stomach infection with Helicobacter pylori. For the study, a triple-therapy combination (PPI and two antibiotics) were used to kill the bacteria. Even after the bacteria had been removed, there were still 3,271 adults who took PPIs for an average of nearly 3 years while 21,729 others used an alternative drug, H2 blockers. It was found that those who took PPIs were 2.44 times more likely to get stomach cancer, while those on H2 blockers didn’t show any heightened risk.
Ian Wong, a researcher from the University College London says that:
“Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are an important treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection and have good safety records for short-term use.”
“However, unnecessary long-term use should be avoided.”
Furthermore, the researchers said:
“To our knowledge this is the first study to demonstrate that long-term PPI use, even after H. pylori eradication therapy, is still associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer. Physicians should therefore exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs to these patients.”
The results only show that PPI usage and longer-term treatment with the medication appeared to up the likelihood of developing cancer further.
Richard Ferrero, a gastrointestinal infection researcher from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia, who wasn’t involved with the study says that:
“Interestingly, the authors found no such correlation between gastric cancer risk and long-term treatment with other anti-suppressive drugs… suggesting that acid-suppression is not the sole factor.”
“The work has important clinical implications as PPIs, which are among the top 10 selling generic drugs in the US, are commonly prescribed to treat heartburn.”
Responding to the study, pharmacoepidemiologist Stephen Evans from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, commented that:
“Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.”
“The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.”
We can’t assume from the data that PPIs are the cause here since the researchers claim that this is only an observational study. It could also have been down to other factors. However, the findings are really alarming.